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Make your Christmas dinner a Roman holiday to remember with three regionally inspired recipes.
Most of you are probably familiar with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s what Italians do on Christmas Eve, and while it’s supposed to be a night of fasting, it’s become an occasion to indulge in all kinds of luxurious seafood, shellfish, and fish preparations—in other words, exactly no one’s definition of fasting! The idea is that all that “light” eating will prepare you for the real feast the next day.
In Italy as in America, the Christmas dinner itself is usually centered around a bountiful meat dish, be it a roast, a hearty braised dish, or even a turkey. But we’re Italian, after all, so at our table in addition to the main event there’s also soup course and a salad, pasta and potatoes, plenty of sides—and don’t forget to save room for dessert! Though much of my cooking reflects my family’s Neapolitan roots, this year, I decided to look to Rome, my mother’s new home, for menu inspiration.
The most classic centerpiece for the holiday meal there is roast lamb, called abbacchio. It’s typically a leg of lamb, rubbed with garlic, rosemary, and olive oil, cooked in a wood-burning oven along with potatoes, which absorb the juices and become wonderfully flavorful and crispy. Since most of us are looking for convenience above all at this time of year, I’ve tweaked the dish a bit to make it in a slow cooker rather than the outdoor oven. I also use lamb shoulder chops, which are economical and readily available, and finish the dish with a simple herb oil. It’s that easy and so delicious.
Stracciatella, a comforting chicken soup laced with bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and some thyme, is another traditional dish. It’s a great way to start the meal and also something to keep in your pocket for cold days that call for something warming. No festive Italian meal is complete without a pasta, and this year, I'm opting for a super-simple but hearty mezzi rigatoni with butternut squash and spicy sausage. And to finish it off, go right ahead and put out a big tray of all your holiday cookies, some ice cream, and a bottle of homemade limoncello. Buon Natale!